Lost to History
A/N- NT2 alternate ending. Not that Riley angst seems to be in short supply around here, but this plot bunny sort of moved into my head and started unpacking. What if that rock hadn't fallen and Ben had died after all?
Disclaimer- If I owned NT, this wouldn't be fanfiction. Oh, and Riley would've hacked them into the White House.
He was starting to really hate water.
Water had gotten them into this place; well, water and a creepy hole in a rock. Now water was going to get them out, one way or another. Riley struggled out of Abigail's grasp, felt her reaching for him again, pulled away. Patrick got a hold on his sleeve—wasn't he supposed to be back further? Wasn't Abigail supposed to get him out?—and Riley shook that off as well.
"I'm... not... leaving!"
It didn't matter that he could fight the others. He couldn't fight the current.
Ben was straining to hold the door open as Mitch left his position, almost instantly being caught up and swept towards the door with the rest of them. Riley noticed that he wasn't trying to avoid it. That was okay. Riley was struggling enough for both of them, and then some. I won't leave. I won't leave you, Ben. I won't—
He looked up and realized that he was passing beneath the door. NO! Flailing for anything that could stop his forward progress, he had a grip on the doorway for an instant, then the water forced him back.
It suddenly occurred to him that he was the last to be swept through the door, that once he was all the way through there would be no reason for Ben to keep it open. Because he was staying behind. Because he was going to die for all of them. He was going to die.
Riley gave one last lunge against the current. "Ben! Hang on!" He could barely hear himself over the rushing water and collapsing stone, yet he saw Ben's eyes fall on him. "Ben—"
A huge chunk of stone collapsed into the chamber, bringing broken timbers along with it and scattering the wood to the current. One piece hit Riley full in the chest, dragging him back again. Back through the door. He looked up again and Ben was still staring at him. Their eyes locked. He was speaking. Not screaming to be heard over the water, probably a lost cause by now. Just speaking.
Yet Riley could read his lips, and hear it in his mind. Bye, Riley.
Someone caught him. He had no idea who, he didn't care. All he could do was watch as Ben leaned forward and the door slammed shut.
The echoing slam of the door seemed to suck all the energy from Riley's body. He went limp, whoever had caught him still hanging on to keep him from collapsing face-first into the falling water. He almost wished they hadn't. Maybe he could drown here. Maybe Cibola would only claim one victim. Maybe if he drowned, the door would open and Ben would walk out. Alive.
He froze. He'd heard something like that a couple of times already today. Raising his eyes, he saw Ben's parents and Abigail huddled up against the other wall, watching him. And that left only one person to have caught him, only one person to be asking if he was alright.
His eyes widened and he spun around and slammed a fist into that one person's face.
Unlike in the flooding chamber, Mitch hadn't been expecting that at all and staggered backwards, though probably more stunned than hurt. Riley kept going. He had lost track of how many blows he'd landed, or where, when something rather like a sledgehammer hit his chest. Right. He'd felt something like that already today, too. A second blow drove him into the wall.
Riley let out a gasp, though whether it was from the wall breaking or the third punch Mitch hit him with, even he wasn't sure. Either way, he tumbled back through crumbling rock into a small earthen side room and saw Mitch's form lunging in after him.
Abruptly the older man spun back to the entrance and Riley could see the dagger glinting in his hand. "You stay back. Nobody move."
Riley struggled into a sitting position. "Abigail! Get out of here! Get Patrick and Emily out of here!" He could hear her muffled yelling in response. It didn't sound like she was moving. "Ben told you to get them out! GO!" He had no idea if she'd followed his instructions that time or not, but Mitch turned back to him and suddenly the knife was at his throat.
"Don't speak again."
Something else he'd heard before.
He leaned back as far as he could, only to discover he'd nearly pressed himself up against the back of the room to begin with. Still dazed from the blows and in denial over what he'd just seen, all Riley could do was glare into eyes almost as blue as his own.
Hatred didn't suit him. He'd been threatened with death plenty of times before, and it tended to shut him up, at least by his standards. Threats to his own life made him edgy, nervous—but it took the death of another to start the hatred burning within him. Not exactly a slow burn, either. He couldn't remember ever hating someone like this. It was like there was a fiery serpent in his chest, thrashing and biting wildly to escape.
"Do it." He was surprised by his own voice, coming out as little more than a snarl.
A pause. "What?"
"I said do it! If you're going to kill me like you killed my best friend, then get it over with!" For a moment, from the look of outrage on Mitch's face, he was sure that the man would take him up on that. I'm coming, Ben. I'm coming...
The knife pulled away from his throat. "Don't be ridiculous. I didn't kill him."
"You made him stay behind. What do you call it?"
"He didn't have to. Any one of you could've stepped in."
Riley recoiled as if physically struck, again. It's true. He could've offered. Heck, he would've if he'd been thinking straight, but all he could see at the time was Abigail with a knife at her throat and Ben yelling that he would stay. Then the door was open. Then the current. I should've thought faster. I should've... he sank back, hoping it was too dark for Mitch to see his grimace. He'd offered to 'surrender' his hand, to stay behind on the tilting death trap. Ben had always ended up being the one to take the risks.
But Riley hadn't even offered to take the last risk. The very last.
Silence reigned in the chamber for a long time. Usually that would have bothered him, but it wasn't as if things could get more uncomfortable. Suddenly Riley felt a hand on his shoulder.
He shook it off. "I'm not listening!" There was a singsong quality to his voice. Maybe he could laugh this off. Obviously he wouldn't be fighting his way out.
The hand didn't come back, but Mitch was still talking. "I can only imagine how hard this is for you, but listen. Gates—"
"His name's Ben. Not Gates."
"Alright, Ben." Riley immediately regretted what he'd said. The man who'd left Ben behind to die didn't deserve to be using his first name. As if they were friends. As if he cared. "Ben was a good and brave man—"
"—Yeah, there's a good reason to kill him."
Mitch finally decided the way to deal with his interruptions was to ignore them. "—and he didn't die for nothing."
"Is that a double negative?"
"He chose to sacrifice himself—"
"—Yeah, pulling a knife on someone's girlfriend really encourages choice—"
"—he helped find the City of Gold, and he cleared his great-great-granddaddy's name. A man only has one lifetime, son. Ben Gates didn't waste his, and history will remember that forever."
No witty response came to mind for that as Riley gawked at Mitch, trying to comprehend what he'd just heard. "Y... excuse me?"
"He's got all the immortality a man can dream of. He made history."
All Riley could do was struggle to keep himself calm. Well, maybe not calm, but at least not throwing more punches and getting himself beat up again. Is that supposed to make me feel better? ...Was that really supposed to make me feel better? In most situations, the very idea of Mitch trying to comfort him would've been laughable. Now it was outright insulting. And what he'd said...
A man only has one lifetime.
He lost his grip on his temper. "WHO CARES ABOUT HISTORY?" he exploded, shooting to his feet. "So he gets put in a few books! Who cares? What's a book good for? Is a book going to risk everything it has to do what's right? Is a book going to be there for his parents and Abigail at the funeral?" For a moment his voice became very soft. "Is a book going to show up on my doorstep one day, to take me halfway around the world on an adventure most people can only dream of?" His fists clenched painfully. "It's like you said, he only had one lifetime. You made him throw it away to save yourself."
"Now don't say that. He died for all of you. You call it throwing his life away, you're dishonoring him."
Riley was not about to break down crying. Not in front of Mitch Wilkinson. Absolutely not. But he was struggling to get the words out now. "I'm not dishonoring anything. Ben was my best friend. And now it's all over. He's gone." A noise that was half sob, half hysterical giggle escaped him. "He's history."
"He'll be remembered."
There was another long silence as Riley tried to calm the burning within him. That's what Mitch wanted the treasure for. Not Ben. "You'll be remembered, too." He moved forward, no longer caring about the knife. He just wanted to get out. Had to get out. "You'll be remembered, because you killed the man who really found the City of Gold. But," he shrugged, "you know what they say. No such thing as bad publicity. Enjoy your spoils."
It had been the wrong thing to say. He'd barely made it past Mitch before memories overwhelmed him and he sank to his knees. The last time he'd used that phrase, it had been a joke. Just to be obnoxious. Everything had been perfect. In frustration, he collapsed against the side of the chamber.
And really, he should have known better than that when one wall had already given out.
It happened too quickly for him to get a clear picture. He hit the wall, there was a moment's ominous rumbling, then a series of cracks shot along the walls. Uh oh. Riley jerked back out into the main tunnel just in time to see the floor of the chamber fall away, chunks of stone from the walls crashing along with it. He coiled up in the passageway, shuddering. If he'd stayed in that chamber for another minute... who knew?
A series of splashes caught his attention and he leaned over. Part of the floor had pitched down but not completely crumbled, forming a sort of ledge. About twenty feet down was what seemed to be another drainage tunnel. The fall itself wouldn't be deadly, but there was the small detail of rushing water filling the passage, ready to sweep anyone away who was unfortunate enough to fall in.
That was when he saw Mitch, clinging to the edge. "Oh. Hello."
There was no fear in the other man's eyes, only fierce determination. "So, what would it take to get a little help here?"
"Sorry. I don't trust you. Drop the knife and I'll see about pulling you up."
Riley's voice was hollow. Dead. His gaze was like ice as he watched the man dangling from the ledge, noting the odd angle his left arm was hanging at. Quite possibly his right hand, the one gripping the knife and the rock, was the only one working.
Since when did Mitch use his name? "I said drop it."
"Now how do you expect me to that?"
"You'll find a way. Or you'll be hanging around for a long time." The haze of panic was starting to lift and he watched the older man struggling to push the knife from beneath his palm without losing his grip. What are you doing? a voice in the back of his mind demanded, but he ignored it, intent on watching Mitch's struggles. The fiery snake in his chest seemed to have calmed somewhat from the scene and he cracked a small, cold smile. Apparently karma was for real.
Riley, what are you doing?
His head snapped up. That voice in the back of his mind wasn't his.
Do you really want to just let him die?
He turned and looked at Mitch again, still fighting to ease the knife from his clutches. From here it suddenly looked impossible. He could see, clear in his mind, the older man crying out. Losing his grip, screaming, falling... falling...
He blinked and he was back below Trinity Church, watching the wood splinter, listening to Shaw's last scream. Waking up in a cold sweat every night, remembering. And this was Shaw, who'd tried to shoot him. Who probably wouldn't have thought twice about killing him. Yet his death had haunted Riley's dreams for weeks.
So would Mitch. Only this time it would be your fault.
"Hang on, Mitch." The words were barely audible and the other man didn't seem to notice. "Hang on, I'm coming." He slid down onto the ledge and felt it shift beneath his weight. "Oh. Bad." Then again, it was the least of the bad situations he'd been in today. "Okay. Just don't move..." He crept forward, testing each step before taking it.
I don't believe I'm doing this. I don't believe I thought about not doing this.
As he moved, his mind was supplying everything that could possibly go wrong with this plan. Most notably, he wasn't all too sure he'd be able to pull Mitch up by himself. "Can you move your left arm?"
There was a silence while the other man tested this out. "A little."
"I'm going to have to pull you up by that arm, so you can hold on with—agh!" Three steps from where he'd intended to stop, the floor in front of him gave way. By some miracle, the small outcropping Mitch was hanging onto remained intact, but it was now barely connected to the rest of the floor. He could see the cracks forming already.
Every instinct Riley had was telling him to get out before the rest of the room collapsed. But that voice in the back of his mind was persistent. If that were Ben, he'd be telling me to get out. He shook his head. Ben's gone. Because of him. But Ben wouldn't want...
A sharp crack distracted him from his musings and he ducked, a reflex honed by having far, far too many gunshots directed at him. It took another second for him to realize the noise hadn't been a shot, but breaking stone. The rest of the ledge was starting to give out.
No more time to think. Riley lunged.
Mitch gave a howl of pain as Riley's hand closed around his injured left arm. His grip might've been a little tighter than it needed to be, but if he was going to do this he was going to do it right. Dropping the other man would be counterproductive. On the other hand, it was immediately apparent he didn't have the strength to pull him up without help.
"Okay..." His eyes darted over what was left of the room. Nothing else looked close to breaking, at least. But he was already slowly sliding forward from Mitch's weight. He kicked out and hooked one leg around the edge of the doorway. Only one idea was coming to mind.
"Yeah?" Considering he was dangling over a river of death with nothing but a scrawny technophile—who happened to hate his guts—between him and certain doom, the man's voice was remarkably calm.
"Brace yourself. This is gonna hurt you a lot more than it's gonna hurt me." He took a deep breath, gathering all his strength. He'd probably only get one shot at this. "Here goes!" Praying the wall would hold up, he kicked it as hard as he could, forcing his body back and dragging Mitch along with him. He thought he felt a dull pop, and Mitch cried out, then they both tumbled back into the tunnel.
Riley shook his head in disbelief, slowly crawling to his feet. "Seriously," he panted, "why can't a girl ever see these things?"
Mitch raised an eyebrow and started to say something, then winced in pain and grabbed his left shoulder. "Hmm. Dislocated."
"Want me to kiss it and make it better?"
The two glared at each other for a moment, Riley's burning gaze meeting Mitch's ice, then both turned away. Mitch hadn't thanked him, but that was probably just as well. He wasn't welcome.
Riley jumped and silently thanked a few random deities for the fact that he was so short. It was usually annoying, but in this case it was all that had kept his skull intact. Turning, he saw Sadusky and two other agents charging up the tunnel. Abigail and the others must have sent them. Thank god. He wanted to fall back against the wall in his exhaustion, but he'd learned his lesson about that by now. So he stood, observing and staying out of the way as Mitch's hands were cuffed.
"Mitch Wilkinson, we have you on kidnapping charges, trespassing on government property, and we'll probably find more before today's over." Sadusky was scowling at him. Riley wondered just how much he knew about the events in the City of Gold, but decided it was best not to ask.
It'll all come out. Wonder how he'll be remembered now. His bitter thoughts were interrupted when he realized someone was talking to him.
"You okay, son?"
He kept hearing that today. When was someone going to realize it was a stupid question? "Peachy."
Sadusky studied him for a moment, then nodded. "Well, there's medics just a little ways down, if you decide you need looked at." His gaze lingered on the young man for a bit longer than Riley felt was necessary, then the agent sighed and went back out as well.
It took at least five minutes to force himself to move again, slowly making his way down the tunnel into the brilliant sunlight. He squinted. Sunlight? Seriously? It felt like they'd been inside the mountain for hours. He could see the flashing lights of the police cars from where he stood, but he really didn't want to go down there now. Instead, he moved so that he could see the top of the mountain and the monument carved there. A monument to history...
"Who cares about history?" he whispered to the silent stone faces.
"Ben cared." He jumped at the voice from behind him, turned around. Emily Appleton was standing there, watching him with unshed tears shining in her eyes. "Ben cared," she repeated, stepping forward and draping a coat around his shoulders. "Put this on. You're soaked, you'll catch something horrible out here."
"I am?" he stated blankly, tugging on his shirt. Oh. Right. He was still pretty wet. It hadn't seemed important. "But..." Who cared what he caught? Ben was dead. "It's no big deal."
"It is a big deal." She was buttoning the coat as she spoke and he shrank away from her. What was she doing coming after him, anyway? Hadn't she just seen her son die? "Oh now stop that," she murmured, pulling him back around. "Come on, it's going to start getting cold soon."
He tried to back away again, though Emily was having none of it. "But... Ben..."
"You don't think he'd want you out here getting sick, do you?"
"Um." Okay, so she's probably right about that. "I guess not?"
"Of course not. Because he cared. About history, yes." She gestured to the monument. "But even more about his friends. About you." She smiled at him. It wasn't a happy smile, but it was a real smile. "He's so like his father, he never would show it. But the proof is in there." A tear slid down her cheek as she nodded to the tunnel. "He sacrificed himself for a treasure, the treasure he cared about the most."
Somehow, her words struck him in a way Mitch's never could. It wasn't justification, it was simply the truth. "You mean..."
The treasure he cared about the most.
It was too much. He slumped against her and let the tears fall.